Gerard De Nerval - Encyclopedia

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GERARD DE NERVAL (1808-1855), the adopted name of Gerard Labrunie, French man of letters, born in Paris on the 22nd of May 1808. His father was an army doctor, and the child was left with an uncle in the country, while Mme Labrunie accompanied her husband in his campaigns. She died in Silesia. In 1811 his father returned, and beside Greek and Latin taught the boy modern languages and the elements of Arabic and Persian. Gerard found his favourite reading in old books on mysticism and the occult sciences. He distinguished himself by his successes at the College Charlemagne, however, and his first work, La France guerriere, elegies nationales, was published while he was still a student. In 1828 he published a translation of Goethe's Faust, the choruses of which were afterwards used by Berlioz for his legend-symphony, The Damnation of Faust. A number of poetical pieces and three comedies combined to acquire for him, at the age of twenty-one, a considerable literary reputation, and led to his being associated with Theophile Gautier in the preparation of the dramatic feuilleton for the Presse. He conceived a violent passion for the actress Jennie Colon, in whom he thought he recognized a certain Adrienne, who had fired his childish imagination. Her marriage and her death in 1842 were blows from which his nervous temperament never really recovered. He travelled in Germany with Alexandre Dumas, and alone in various parts of Europe, leading a very irregular and eccentric life. In 1843 he visited Constantinople and Syria, where, among other adventures, he nearly married the daughter of a Druse sheikh. He contributed accounts of his travels to the Revue des Deux Mondes and other periodicals. After his return to Paris in 1844 he resumed for a short time his feuilleton for the Presse, but his eccentricities increased and he committed suicide by hanging, on the 25th of January 1855. The literary style of Gerard is simple and unaffected, and he has a peculiar faculty of giving to his imaginative creations an air of naturalness and reality. In a series of novelettes, afterwards published under the name of Les Illumines, ou les precurseurs du socialisme (1852), containing studies on Retif de la Bretonne, Cagliostro and others, he gave a sort of analysis of the feelings which followed his third attack of insanity. Among his other works the principal are Les Filles du feu (1854), which contains his masterpiece, the semi-autobiographical romance of Sylvie; Scenes de la vie orientale (1848-1850); Contes et faceties (1852); La Poheme galante (1856); and L'Alchimiste, a drama in five acts, the joint composition of Gerard and Alexandre Dumas. His Poesies completes were published in 1877.

There are many accounts of Gerard de Nerval's unhappy life. Among them may be mentioned notices by his friend Theophile Gautier and by Arsene Houssaye, prefixed to the posthumous Le Reve et la vie (1855); Maurice Tourneux's sketch in his Age du romantisme (1887); and a sympathetic study of temperament in the Nevroses (1898) of Mme Arvede Barine. See also G. Ferrieres, Gerard de Nerval (1906).

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